A Health Update {Hashimoto’s, pregnancy, fertility, and food}

19wkbelly

It’s been quite some time since I’ve talked about my health here, and I know some of you might be curious how things are going with treating my autoimmune disease (Hashimoto’s thyroiditis) naturally, and how it has affected my pregnancy.

Quick background: I was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s in summer 2013, after years of not being able to find any answer to why I felt completely awful so much of the time. This diagnosis lead to massive changes in my already “healthy” diet. Over the previous years I’d been vegetarian, vegan, plant-based, avoided processed and refined foods, done detoxes, and yet still had very little energy and got debilitating headaches more days out of each month than not.

Once I learned the root cause of all of these problems, I was quite determined to learn to manage it naturally and very much wanted to avoid the need for any medication. I began researching a ton and found that much of what I’d always known to be true in the realm of nutrition, actually wasn’t (at least not for every person). In the midst of all of this I was also trying to conceive our third baby, and after 1.5 years of trying was diagnosed with PCOS. I learned that hormone balance depends on an abundance of healthy fats, and that I needed more quality proteins to help keep my blood sugar stable. I was told to avoid gluten, as it increases inflammation for people with autoimmune disease, and as I dug deeper I found that same to be true of legumes, sugar, dairy, and grains in general. All signs pointed to a grain-free, primal (paleo) diet, and I decided to give it a try.

I haven’t eaten any gluten at all since January 2014, and permanently quit dairy and corn a while after that upon seeing so clearly how much they affected how I feel. I rarely eat sugar (refined white sugar, almost never) or legumes, and I have gone many stretches being completely grain-free. This has been such a huge change, and definitely not always easy. I miss lentils and bread, but when I think about how I used to feel when eating them frequently, it really doesn’t seem so bad.

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So back to pregnancy. After over a year and a half of trying to conceive, even with all these dietary changes my progesterone was still low, so I was put on a natural compounded progesterone. We found out in late June of last year that I was pregnant, just weeks after starting the hormone treatment. At 8 weeks, it ended abruptly in a miscarriage. I don’t know, and will never know, if Hashimoto’s was to blame at all, but after it happened I became a lot more careful with my diet, avoiding inflammatory foods and increasing healthy fats and veggies. In January, after more months of overusing pregnancy test strips and wondering if it would ever happen, once again I was faced with two little pink lines. This time felt so different though. The anxiety that had surfaced after my miscarriage attacked with a vengeance, and I fought it every day with prayer, faith, and essential oils. When I passed the 8-week mark where I’d been last time, and especially when I reached the 12-week mark where risk is considered much lower, I began to relax. Twelve weeks happened to come almost exactly when I’d been due with the one we lost, which was bittersweet but also healing for me. With the second trimester came the end of my constant nausea, and I entered the phase of truly enjoying this pregnancy.

My morning (read: all-day) sickness in the first 12 weeks made it basically impossible to stay as strict with my diet as I had been. I still avoided gluten, sugar, dairy, and most legumes, but added some grains back to save my sanity. Protein-rich foods often made me feel ill by simply thinking of them. Even now, I’m eating rice or a piece of millet bread here and there, and simply trying to listen to my body and discern what it needs on any given day. Sometimes that’s a big green smoothie with kale, pineapple, mango, coconut milk, banana, avocado and coconut oil. Sometimes it’s sweet potatoes, or raw coconut oil chocolate, or some eggs or grass-fed beef. Most of my cravings have been along those lines, though sometimes it’s for things like donuts or ice cream and I’ve had to find creative healthy ways to satisfy that!

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Pregnancy can affect thyroid problems pretty drastically at times, and for the first time I have needed a low dose of thyroid medication. I don’t love being on it, and am hoping to be able to stop after baby comes, even if it means getting even more strict with food for a while. I truly believe that the body can heal itself, but I don’t want to do any experimenting with thyroid levels while I’m pregnant.

Despite that, this has overall been the best I have ever felt while pregnant. I have more energy than I remember having with the boys, much fewer headaches, and most significantly much fewer digestive problems. My first two pregnancies involved almost constant tummy issues—painful indigestion practically ever time I ate—and now it’s pretty rare and usually directly linked to slipping up and eating something I shouldn’t (like some corn chips, hummus, or peanuts).

Supplements are also pretty important when growing a human, and must go far beyond a simple prenatal vitamin.
I take a prenatal multi recommended by my nurse practitioner (who treats my Hashimoto’s). It contains methylfolate instead of the standard folic acid, which is absorbed much more readily by my body.
My other dailies are: fermented cod liver oil (one of the very best sources of essential fatty acids and vitamins A & D), a quality probiotic, curcumin (turmeric capsules, for inflammation), a special thyroid supplement from my nurse practitioner, and a magnesium/calcium drink.
I also use various essential oil daily according to what I need. One of my favorites is the Gentle Baby blend, which is specifically for pregnancy and babies. The book Gentle Babies has been a great resource for figuring out which Young Living oils can be used while pregnant.

gentlebaby

I think that just about covers it (for now anyway). What a wild ride this has been! I’m so thankful for all the knowledge I’ve gained and help I’ve received that has helped this pregnancy along so far and helped me grow the healthiest baby possible, and feel as well as possible so I can enjoy every moment of this. Now at 24 weeks, I am deeply aware of the magic of being her home for these months, her nourishment and protection. Every kick and squirm I feel is so very precious.

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Homemade Almond Milk

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I’ve used almond milk for years now in place of regular milk, and since going completely dairy free a few months ago I’ve been using it even more. It’s definitely my milk alternative of choice. I always purchased cartons of it at the store, but then I decided to try making it myself at home and I haven’t bought another jug since! It’s just as good (if not better), super easy, and requires very little time commitment.

And then there’s the savings: I figured out that making it myself cuts the cost almost in half. I buy blanched slivered almonds from the bulk bins at Whole Foods, but really I could go even cheaper and get whole raw almonds with skin on.

The first time I tried this I used cheesecloth to strain it, and there was a lot of grittiness from the pulp left in the milk. Then I saw nut milk bags mentioned somewhere online, and purchased one of these on Amazon, and now I’m a total convert. Completely worth the money, and less wasteful than using cheesecloth and throwing it away!

So here’s how to do it:

Soak 1 cup of raw or blanched almonds in twice as much water for several hours (or over night).

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Drain and rinse the almonds and place into a high-powered blender (mine is a Vitamix). Add 3 1/2 cups of filtered water and blend on high for 30-60 seconds until it looks like you’re just blending milk.

Place your nut milk bag into a medium-sized bowl, and hold it open while pouring the contents of the blender into the bag. The lift the bag over the bowl and squeeze, starting at the top and working down. I finish by kind of sectioning off pieces of the pulp and squeezing those, just to get every last drop.

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Use a funnel to pour the milk into a 32 ounce glass container (a quart-sized mason jar is perfect).

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Try to use within 4-5 days, and shake it up before each use. Keep the pulp in a container for up to 4 days.

 

The first time I made it, I saved the pulp but wasn’t really sure what to do with it. After a bit of googling, I found this cracker recipe and fell in love (there is a serious lack of crackers in this frugal gluten free girl’s life lately!). These are sweet and the flavor reminds me of graham crackers; I’m definitely planning to try making some savory almond pulp crackers as well!

Every single time I make a batch this creamy white goodness, I get this hilariously awesome feeling of self-sufficiency and green domestic goddess-ness. I mean, I just made milk.

Yes I realize you’re laughing at me right now. But seriously, try it! It’s pretty empowering.

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avocado mango salad

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This salad. I’m a little obsessed. I could eat it every day, at any time of the day. And it’s super seasonal right now (here at least). Yum!

How to make it:

1 avocado, cut into cubes
1 small-medium mango (I love those small yellow “honey” mangoes!), cut into cubes
juice of 1/2 lime
handful of chopped fresh cilantro
drizzle of extra virgin olive oil
sprinkle of Himalayan pink salt (or sea salt, kosher, whatever)
optional: 1/2 can black beans, rinsed and drained

Combine all of the above in a bowl. Mix and enjoy!

 

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hello, I’m a canary.

detoxwater

I can’t believe my last post on this blog was nearly a year ago. Suddenly I’ve had an urge to write publicly again lately, about things other than art and photography (which of course I do over here). I think Instagram is largely to blame for my absence here. It’s so easy to snap a photo and type out a little blurb about what’s happening in my life, and press share. Instant gratification. But I’ve got more on my mind these days and for some reason I have this innate pull to share it with whomever wants to listen. So here I am, once again. Hello :)

Ten months since my last post also means ten months since finding out I have Hashimoto’s. It’s been quite the journey, to say the least. After months of the strictest eating plan I’ve ever followed, my headaches were more frequent than ever and I felt awful. I spent the last few months of last year eating mostly healthy but with no restrictions. I was traveling, working quite a lot, doing the holidays thing, and I knew something had to change again at some point but I just wasn’t ready. In January I began reading more about Hashi’s and knew that gluten really didn’t have a place in my life anymore, and that it would have to be permanent. Apparently gluten and my thyroid look too similar to my crazy immune system, so when I eat gluten it creates antibodies to attack it, which then get confused and attack my thyroid too. So I made peace with saying goodbye to wheat, and honestly it hasn’t been as hard as one would think.

While this seemed to help some, I was still not feeling great. I saw an endocrinologist for the first time, and then received a recommendation from a friend for a nurse practitioner she sees for Hashi’s, who specializes in functional medicine. I made an appointment right away, and I’m so thankful. She confirmed my gluten-free decision, and prescribed a 10-day detox program, a daily circumin supplement (to reduce inflammation in my body), a predominantly alkaline diet, and then another blood test in a few months to see if my antibody levels decrease. So that’s where I am now. I loved the detox program. It wasn’t easy, but I felt so clear and just better. It’s been over a week since it ended, and so far I still haven’t eaten dairy or sugar because I just feel so much better without them. I’ve had coffee only once since, which is huge for me. I really enjoy coffee. But I’m trying to make it a once-in-a-while treat rather than a daily thing I depend on.

So right now, my diet is predominantly plant-based. I eat more vegetables and legumes than I ever have before. Fruit, some gluten-free grains, some fish and eggs, and sometimes poultry. I’m trying to purchase organic/wild caught/cage free whenever I can, and my current challenge is doing this while sticking with a reasonable food budget. (I’ll write a whole post on that endeavor soon.)

I do still get headaches, but they’re not as bad or as frequent since I did the detox. And there’s an obvious link between them and either lack of water or increase in stress. I read somewhere that people who have autoimmune diseases are like the canaries in the coal mine for everyone else. Things that everyone else should do, we just pay a much bigger price for ignoring them. We’re sensitive, so we have to take extra care with how we eat, what toxins we’re exposed to, our stress levels, sleep quality, and basically every area of self care. My body forces me to slow down and care for myself, and if I don’t I inevitably crash- unable to care for those who need me or keep up with my work and other responsibilities. Lots of people, when they hear how I eat now, say they could never do this, that they love bread and cheese and sweets coffee way too much. Trust me, I love them too. But the alternative for me is feeling exhausted constantly, in pain almost all the time, and consequently short on the patience and energy required to raise tiny humans, run a business, and live my life. Now, for the first time in years, I am myself more often then I’m not. I’m enjoying playing with my kids, and I have the energy to do the things I love. It’s amazing. Giving up those foods and changing my lifestyle doesn’t feel like a sacrifice anymore—it feels like an incredible gift.

beach

 

I’ll be back soon. (for real this time!)

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Learning how to eat, again.

© 2013 Hannah Mayo Photography
© 2013 Hannah Mayo Photography

I know I said I was back, and then I left you hanging ;)

I’ve been a bit preoccupied with photographing awesome peeps in love and raising babies, and also for a while it felt like I’d hit a dead end on the path to ridding myself of headaches.

Then I heard about food sensitivity testing, which led me to a local natural health practice that offers such a test. After meeting with a practitioner there, I had a lot of blood drawn (like, I nearly passed out), and today I met with her for the results. Which led me back here, to this blog, because I’m just starting to process everything and it’s simply too complicated for an Instagram or Facebook post. I know it will be of no interest whatsoever to many out there, but writing always helps me process things.

The tests that were done were basically a full workup and hormone panel- vitamins, thyroid, and on and on- and a food sensitivity test called LEAP-MRT.

Much of my regular health labs came back good, but it’s been determined that I have Hashimoto’s disease. Hashimoto’s is an autoimmune disease in which the immune system attacks the thyroid gland as if it were a foreign entity, eventually resulting in severe hypothyroidism. It can progress over the course of years and even decades, and often in the beginning it isn’t detected because thyroid levels themselves will remain in normal range. The true test for the presence of the condition is a thyroid antibody test, which isn’t included in routine bloodwork. In all my years of seeing doctor after doctor for my headaches, most of them ordered blood tests, but this practitioner is the first who’s ever checked my thyroid antibodies. Even before true hypothyroidism occurs, symptoms can begin to show up and are often written off as unrelated and without apparent cause. It tends to be genetic, and my mom had it before finally having her thyroid removed last year. Mine is in very early stages still and does not require any thyroid replacement medicine. My nurse practitioner is optimistic that following the diet they’ve outlined for me will do a lot to keep my levels in check.

Hashimoto’s and food sensitivities often go hand-in-hand, so it turns out that the MRT results could help with it and my headaches (it’s likely the two are closely connected anyway). The foods I’m reactive to are broken into high and moderate reaction levels. For the next three months, I need to avoid all the food from both categories, and then I can challenge by moderately reactive foods one at a time. I wont bore you with the entire list, but suffice to say that for the next three months I have to avoid dairy, gluten, soy, rice, quinoa, oranges, onions, shrimp, walnuts, and several other foods.

The nutritionist I met with suggested I learn about the Paleo diet and the recipes that go along with it, and loosely follow that since there are so many grains on my “no” list. So here I go into entirely new food territory, re-learning how to eat (and shop, and cook). I’ve been pretty overwhelmed thinking about it today- knowing that I have to find alternatives for so many things I’m used to eating, and wondering how I’m going to organize our meals when I have to eat so much differently from my family. But I know I’ll find a groove with it, and if it leads to feeling well and being pain-free it will certainly be worth the effort.

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Breakfast Quinoa

In these first weeks as a mom of two I’ve been learning that in order to eat the way I want (whole, unprocessed foods, mostly plant-based), I must prepare in advance. I try to make things for the week when Manny is home from work, including basics like grains and beans, and snacks that are easy to grab during the day.

One of my staples is quinoa. I love it, and usually try to have a batch cooked and ready in the fridge. I’ll pull it out to top a salad, or eat with sautéed veggies or as a quick side for dinner. It’s pretty awesome stuff.

Even if you don’t cook it ahead of time, it is a pretty quick food to prepare.
Just combine 2 cups of water per 1 cup of quinoa in a saucepan. {I rinse my quinoa in a fine strainer first to get  rid of any residual bitterness that might be left.}
Bring it to a boil. Then turn it to low and let it simmer with the lid on for 15 minutes.
And done.

I’ve been dressing it up a bit for breakfast lately, like this:

Breakfast Quinoa

Combine 1 cup of rinsed quinoa and 2 cups of water in a saucepan, and set to high heat.

While this is heating, add in:
1/4 cup sliced almonds
1/4 cup chopped dates
1/3 cup chopped apple
pinch of salt
dashes of cardamom, nutmeg, and cinnamon
*all measurements approximate. adjust to tast. I’m one of those toss-it-in type of cooks :)

Once this comes to a boil, turn the heat down to low, cover, and allow to cook for 15 minutes.
Drizzle with some honey, and enjoy!

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A few interesting things about quinoa:
~ It has 14 grams of protein per serving, and is a complete protein on its own (unlike other grains).
~ Quinoa is actually a seed, and more closely related to beets and spinach than to grain species.
~ In its natural state, it has a bitter-tasting coating called saponin, which is removed for distribution as food. This saponin has been used in South American cultures as a soap, and as an antiseptic for skin injuries.

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Crunchy Granola

Homemade granola is seriously one of my favorite snack foods ever. Totally delicious and healthful- what’s not to love? This is my version, which doesn’t last long around here.

Ingredients:

2 cups rolled oats
1 cup toasted almonds
1/4 cup sesame seeds
1/2 cup toasted sunflower seeds
1/2 cup raisins
1/2 cup dried cranberries (or other dried berries)
scant 1/4 cup grapeseed (or canola) oil
1/2 cup honey

Mix the oats, almonds, and seeds in a large bowl.
Measure oil into a 1/2c. measuring cup and swirl before pouring into the bowl. Then meansure the honey in the same cup.
toss everything together and pout onto a baking pan.
Bake at 300 degrees for 30 minutes, turning every so often to keep it cooking evenly.
Return the baked granola to the mixing bowl, add the fruit, and stir to combine. Stir  gently sevral times as it cools, so it doesn’t clump together too much.
Enjoy on its own or with yogurt, and store in airtight containers such as mason jars.

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Drink to your Health

Today on my photography blog, I posted this photo for the 52 weeks project I’m part of. Our theme this week was beginnings, and I wrote a little about the changes I’ve been making to the way I eat, and the beginnings of my journey into running.

I mentioned the Crazy Sexy Diet in my last post. When I first started reading it, I knew that it was going to spur change in my life. I was almost scared to start it, but I am so glad I did.

I was a vegetarian for years before I got married, and afterward kind of off and on. I started eating meat and dairy again because it was easier- easier to get protein that way, easier not to cook separate things for myself and my husband, easier to eat out or at other peoples’ homes. Still, I have known all along that it is not the ideal way of eating, and that my body just doesn’t like those things. Animal products and processed foods clog up the system and cause all kinds of problems, and this was always in the back of my mind while I was consuming them and then suffering from stomachaches, headaches, fatigue, heartburn, and skin problems. Well, Kris Carr’s book has brought it to the forefront of my mind again, and I am choosing to treat my body better. I may like the flavors of the food I’ve been eating, but it just isn’t worth feeling awful now and jeopardizing my long-term health. And I know from experience that after a while, those toxins leave your body and you don’t really crave the same foods you once did.

Raw foods, juices, and smoothies are a big part of the Crazy Sexy Diet.
I love smoothies and juicing- they are one of my favorite ways to “eat” my veggies. Kris Carr’s “Make Juice Not War” Green Juice is awesome. You can use romaine lettuce in place of the sprouts, or play around with different greens like spinach and parsley.

Green smoothies are also amazing. I’m not sure I have ever made two exactly the same, but this is one of my basic recipes:

Creamy Greenie Smoothie

1/2 avocado (or 1/4 of one of those really large, lighter-colored ones)
1 banana
handful of spinach
about a cup of coconut water
a drizzle of agave nectar

Then you can go nuts and be creative. Use only half a banana and then add some berries, kiwi, or pineapple. Use cucumber instead of (or in addition to) the avocado. Throw in some broccoli or alfalfa sprouts if you have them. You get the idea. Enjoy :)

{p.s.- Even my 2 year old will drink this. I’m not kidding.}

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A {LOVE}ly Breakfast

This morning I made and enjoyed these heart-shaped pancakes with my two funny valentines.

This is my favorite pancake recipe, adapted only slightly from The Vegetarian Mother’s Cookbook. They’re whole wheat, so they’re better for you and keep you feeling full longer. I usually put chopped bananas in the batter, but they would also be great with blueberries, chocolate chips, or just by themselves with some real maple syrup and butter.

What I love about this recipe is that you make the dry mix ahead of time and store it. It lasts through several pancake mornings, and we get from-scratch pancakes without tired mama having to think too much too early :)

The mix:

4 cups whole wheat pastry flour
4 cups whole wheat flour
1/4 cup baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 cup evaporated cane juice
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon or pumpkin pie spice

Whisk all ingredients together until well combined, and store in an airtight 2-quart container.

Whole Grain Pancakes:

1 egg
1 1/4 cups milk
2 tablespoons oil
1 1/2 cups of the above mix
{optional: chopped bananas, blueberries, chocolate chips, apples, etc.}

Preheat griddle or skillet on medium heat. Beat egg and milk together until smooth, then beat in the oil. Stir the mix into the wet ingredients. If you’re adding bananas or anything else, stir in gently now. If the mixture is too thick, add a little more milk. Batter should spread on griddle but not run. Cook on  preheated, lightly oiled griddle or skillet until golden brown on both sides.

One things my mom told me about pancakes, that always  stuck in my mind, is that when there are lots of bubbles coming to the surface of side one, it’s about time to flip it over.

To make a heart, drip little by little, starting with one side of the heart, spreading it down, and then dripping the other side of the heart and spreading it down to join the two. Other fun shapes include butterflies, snowmen, and funny faces (with ears and hair, and kids can used fruit for the eyes, nose and mouth).

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I hope you’re having a love-filled Valentine’s day. Seth is going to grandma’s house tonight, and we’re staying to make dinner and watch a movie together. I’m looking forward to a leisurely and uninterrupted evening with my hubby!

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Soup for Lunch

Yesterday’s lunch {and it will be today’s as well}- this wonderful soup recipe from Cannelle et Vanille.
With a hunk of hearty bread, it is the perfect winter meal.

 

I want to do more food photography. I have been so inspired lately, by the above-mentioned blog, as well as this post, this flickr group, and this website.
I am planning on going antique and thrift shopping for more props soon.

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